October 15th, 2020

In April 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Secretary of the Interior to review 27 national monuments – including marine monuments – with an eye toward shrinking or completely rescinding them. Later in the month, he signed a second executive order asking the Secretary of Commerce to review all marine national monuments and marine sanctuaries designated or expanded since 2007, to assess “the opportunity costs associated with potential energy and mineral exploration and production.”

The Pacific marine national monuments are on the frontline of climate change and extinction threats for marine wildlife and coral reefs. They represent one of the final frontiers and havens for wildlife in the world and comprise the most widespread collection of coral reef, seabird, and shorebird protected areas on the planet under a single nation’s jurisdiction. It is therefore imperative that the Trump administration’s designs to weaken or remove fishing restrictions in the monuments be thwarted.

Following his initial attacks on terrestrial monuments, on June 5, 2020, President Trump issued a proclamation that would reopen the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, for commercial fishing. Recognizing that this action would be a devastating blow to ocean conservation efforts, environmental groups sued the administration to stop it.

Tragically, this latest action may only be the beginning. President Trump may still put marine national monuments in the Pacific region on the chopping block as well. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – an agency within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – is reportedly looking into the possibility of lifting the fishing ban in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument. According to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Wespac), NMFS already “is drafting management plans” for reopening commercial fishing in monument waters encompassing nearly 600,000 square miles of the U.S. exclusive economic zone.

Wespac, closely aligned with the commercial fishing industry, has been pressing the Trump administration for revocation of fishing restrictions in the Pacific marine national monuments since early in the President’s term. In 2017, as part of its “Make America Great Again: Return US Fishermen to US Waters” campaign, Wespac claimed that the monuments should be dismantled because they “compromised national food security.”Most recently, in a May 8, 2020 letter addressed to the President himself, Wespac claimed that removal of restrictions is “urgently needed” because they are “burdensome” and “unnecessary as they have no proven conservation benefit.”

Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) is watching the administration closely for any signs that it is moving forward with its plans. In July 2018, SSL submitted a request to the Department of the Interior (DOI) under the Freedom of Information Act seeking all records related to its review of the Pacific marine monuments. When DOI failed to adequately respond to SSL’s request, SSL sued DOI in federal court, prompting it to finally to begin producing documents. The released documents contained evidence of communications between DOI and outside interests – including fishing industry lobbyists and Wespac – concerning the potential opening of the Pacific marine monuments to commercial fishing. SSL continues to monitor DOI, NOAA, and NMFS activities, and stands ready to take the Trump administration to court again if it follows through on its threats to these irreplaceable national treasures.

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